Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|October 12, 2022|6 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

Billionaire Tomorrow

How to learn from a missed opportunity and become a millionaire

The best entrepreneurs have all done it. Letting  that moment of crystal-clear opportunity pass them by in the press of a day. That idea that could have made them a new fortune slips through their fingers .  The great entrepreneurs talk about it  and learn from it; including one of Ghana’s richest men - Ofori Sarpong, who made his fortune in industry and media.  He spoke to Billionaire Tomorrow from his home in Accra.

It was more than 20 years ago, but Ofori Sarpong remembers it like it was yesterday. It happened thousands of feet above the South China Sea on a  flight between Hong Kong and Singapore on his way home to Africa.

“ I was very tired,” recalls Sarpong, “ There was his guy sat next to me. He was talking about computers IT and the internet. He was trying to explain to me about IT and we were light on it back home and that was a big opportunity.”

“But I just wanted to get back home, so all that he was telling me I didn’t listen. I didn’t even take his number because I was exhausted after the business trip and my aim was  just wanting to get back home meet my wife and then have the food that I had missed for about two to three weeks.”

Sarpong admits it took a few months for the missed opportunity, back in the 1990s, to sink in. With the help and advice of the man in the next seat to him on the plane, he could have held a clear advantage back home where the internet was in its infancy.

“It taught me that we should take advantage of certain opportunities. Here was someone who was seeing what he could introduce in other countries and I am sure he was working for a big IT company.”

It was one blip along the way in a remarkable journey for Sarpong that has seen him make a string of canny investments and trades to amass a fortune of around $600 million. His empire has outposts in everything from radio stations to a salt mine. He works from 7.30 AM every day until the evening and calls himself a restless entrepreneur.

This success has yielded a fleet of luxury cars. The word in Accra is that Sarpong owns a classic 1960 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud; a Bentley Continental and a Mercedes Cabriolet.

It all began in a school for sober habits nearly half a century ago.

Sarpong was a boarder at the  Presbyterian Boys Secondary School in Legon, Accra, founded in 1938 and considered to be one of the best schools in the land. Its alumni include pillars of society:  MPs, civil servants, high-ranking soldiers, and court judges.

The school is run with high discipline along the lines of the protestant Presbyterian faith that is – to say the least – austere. It is was founded in the 16th century by an austere Scot John Knox on the basis of the authority of the scriptures and the necessity of grace through faith in Christ. Each church is run by a group of elders who discourage frivolity, to say the least.

The school imbued the young Sarpong with discipline and ambition, but it was his mother who proved the spark that ignited his career as an entrepreneur.

“My mum was the one who actually brought me up, you know, she was a businesswoman who was into trading, “ he says.

“I had to follow her, I got into importation that was my first line of business. I was importing a lot of goods from China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia and a few other Asian countries.”

His first trade was a shipment of shirts from Thailand, but his most lucrative early deal came in Indonesia as its currency crashed around the turn of the century during the short-lived reign of President BJ Habibie.

Sarpong flew to Indonesia with a fist full of US dollars and made a fortune buying up goods, made cheap by the currency crash, to sell back home.

When China opened up for trade in the 21st century Sarpong was one of the first people in to set up trades and he says it was good business until others caught on and the market was saturated.

Sarpong has built his industrial and media empire with similar flair and believes the time is ripe for investment in Africa.

“What gives me the greatest confidence in Africa is that we are far behind in terms of innovation and innovation is endless, it never ends, so the future is still bright,” he says.

Clearly, a multi-millionaire with big plans.